Right-of-Way Laws in California

Until all rural and city traffic is 100% automated, California drivers must be familiar with right-of-way regulations that govern motorists and pedestrians. Unfortunately, many drivers become confused when presented with a right-of-way traffic puzzle. The result is often a car accident that may involve injuries and even death

Common Right-of-Way Situations in California

If a driver or pedestrian has the right of way, it means that they get to be the first or the next party in a sequence to proceed. 

In some cases, the right of way is determined by automation, such as stoplights, draw bridges, and train track crossing signals. But frequently, the right of way is determined by memorized rules of the road that all drivers must follow.

Left Turns

If you are looking to make a left turn at an intersection, you typically will be the last in line in the right-of-way hierarchy. Ahead of you would be oncoming traffic as well as pedestrians crossing the street. However, if a traffic arrow controls your advance, there should be no oncoming traffic or pedestrians.


U-turn right-of-way rules are pretty much identical to left-turn ones. The oncoming vehicle will have the right of way unless the person making a U-turn is doing so on the command of a green arrow. Pedestrians should not figure in the equation of a u-turn whatsoever. 

Uncontrolled Intersection

Uncontrolled intersections have no signs or lights. Instead, drivers must interpret the situation based on the rules of the road to decide who goes first. Generally speaking, a driver who arrives at an intersection must yield to drivers who are already there. If two drivers arrive at the same time, the driver to the right has the right of way. 

Controlled Intersection

Various levels of controls may exist at an intersection, including stop lights, stop and yield signs, and other markings. 

When it comes to traffic lights, one of the main confusions pertains to right-hand turns. California allows drivers to make a right-hand turn at a red light. When this occurs, the driver making the right-hand turn must cede the right of way to other traffic, including pedestrians and vehicles engaged in left-hand turns. 

Regarding signs, some intersections have up to four stop signs. In general, the person who arrives at the stop sign first takes precedence. After that, drivers to the right get to go first. If a driver faces a yield sign, that driver does not have the right of way, but they need not stop if they can proceed in a safe manner.


Pedestrians must follow right-of-way rules as well, but sometimes they don’t. This failure, however, does not permit a driver to proceed and hit a pedestrian, although the pedestrian could be ticketed for jaywalking. In all cases, prudence requires drivers to drive more cautiously around crosswalks. 

Safety and Emergency Vehicles

Safety and emergency vehicles, such as police cruisers and ambulances, always have the right of way when they are en route to an incident. Drivers must pull off to the side of the road to a safe place to let an emergency vehicle go first or pass. 

However, in no case should drivers place themselves or others in danger in an attempt to cede the right of way to any vehicle. 

The Importance of Understanding California’s Right-of-Way Laws

Knowing the right-of-way laws in California will help you avoid causing an accident and finding yourself on the hook for serious civil liability. It can also help you anticipate other drivers who fail to comply with right-of-way rules in traffic and keep you out of harm’s way.

Contact the San Diego Car Accident Law Firm of Mission Personal Injury Lawyers Today To Get More Information

If you’ve been injured in a car accident in San Diego or Chula Vista, please call Mission Personal Injury Lawyers for a free case evaluation with a personal injury lawyer or contact us online.

We proudly serve San Diego County and throughout California.

Mission Personal Injury Lawyers
2515 Camino del Rio S Suite 350, San Diego, CA 92108

(619) 777-5555

Mission Personal Injury Lawyers – Chula Vista Office
690 Otay Lakes Rd #130, Chula Vista, CA 91910
(619) 722-3032

We also serve the state of Texas. Contact our personal injury law office in El Paso for legal assistance today.

Mission Personal Injury Lawyers – El Paso Office
201 E Main Suite 106, El Paso, Texas 79901
(915) 591-1000